While it may be clear to some what the term accident means, it is still something that needs to be defined legally when it comes to insurance policies.
In Johnson v. American United Life Insurance Co., the court was faced with determining whether the plaintiff’s husband, who had died in a car crash as a result of driving while under the influence, had met with an accident as defined in his life insurance policy, under his Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage.
The main issue in the case was that the man’s policy did not define the word “accident.” This resulted in the Court interpreting it. In the final ruling, the justices indicated that the terms accidental and accident have been troublesome to courts for many years. In the Johnson case, their ruling was that the husband was covered by the policy, but that they were not happy with the decision, based on the decedent’s negligence of drinking and driving.
The judge said that, “Drunk driving is reckless, irresponsible conduct that produces tragic consequences ….. But our task is not to promote personal responsibility or enforce good driving habits. We must focus on the terms of the policies …. and determine whether the deceased died as a result of an accident without ‘allowing our moral judgments about drunk driving to influence our review.'”
In the final analysis, the court ruled the driver had no intention of having an accident and thus the death of the insured was therefore an accident, despite the fact that the deceased had a blood-alcohol content of .289. The wife was entitled to the $125,000 pay out from the Accidental Death and Dismemberment policy.